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Diderot in his Systematic Refutation of the Book of Helvetius cm
Man (1773), in denying Helvetius' premises dogmatically, was
simply expressing the general belief in such differences. But
allowing for a certain amount of exaggeration in the view, it
undoubtedly contained two ideas of real value for education:
the one, that mind and character depend much more on social
environment than is usually supposed, and that there is a common
capacity which under ordinary conditions does not get a chance
to develop as it might; the other, that society can largely control
its own destinies through the education imparted to the rising
generation. The real weakness that made the speculations of
Helvetius on education of merely ephemeral interest was his failure
to work them out logically, by expounding the methods of in-
struction by which the mind of man can be formed in any desired
way. One who believes that education is an unfolding of innate
powers cannot be blamed for trusting more to the nature of mind
than to external circumstances: it is different with one who
believes that the mind is the passive recipient of experience from
without. As a matter of fact, Helvetius scarcely deals with ques-
tions of method at all. He outlines a catechism of morals designed
to inculcate the conviction that the public well-being is the
supreme law, and sketches in a most interesting note a plan for
making the school a self-governing community in which the
pupils sit in judgment on each other and so acquire an under-
standing of social relations. But he has practically nothing to
say on what subjects other than gymnastics and ethics should be
taught, or what methods should be followed in teaching any
subjects. He is content to leave all such questions to the ex-
perienced teacher.


Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was born in the little city-
State of Geneva in 1712. His mother died at bis birth, and the
first ten years of his life were spent in the charge of his father.
Unfortunately for the boy, the father was a somewhat unbalanced
man, and the education he received from him was of the most
casual kind. Most important for his future was the perusal of
a miscellaneous collection of books, including among them